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Brothers Alvin stage lovefest

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Times have changed for Brothers Alvin. In the past, Dave consciously stoked the notion that he and elder brother Phil were combative in the tradition of the Davies boys of The Kinks and the Gallaghers of Oasis.

Maybe it was the near death of Phil 2 1/2 years ago while on tour in Spain, but the boys who used to be in The Blasters, have a love fest going on stronger than ever during the continuing tour of their Big Bill Broonzy tribute extravaganza.

It was more than the words that each spoke about the other, particularly Dave of Phil, but quite clearly in the music. These guys are doing it out of love for the music. Dave recalled how Phil, who took harp lessons when he was but 12 from Sonny Terry, used to sneak into Los Angeles from their home in Downey, Cal. to see the leading lights of the area including Big Joe Turner and Lowell Fulson. Soon enough, little brother Dave was tagging along.

They learned their lessons exceedingly well as evidenced by last year's excellent tribute "Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play & Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy."

And they started the very generous 2 1/4-hour show with the lead-off song "All By Myself," setting the stage for what was to come. Having played country, punk, roots rock and more during their careers both together and in other configurations, the Alvins showed yet again showed themselves to be adept in the blues as well in a show that was even better than last July's concert at the same venue.

Phil quickly showcased what a great singer he is. His voice was a powerful tool, showing his musical palette stretched to the blues. He also knew a thing or two about blowing away on harp ("Stuff They Call Money" and "So Long Baby, Goodbye"). Last year, he was stiff due to arthritis, but he moved about better on this evening.

While Dave took a share of lead vocals and was fine in his own right, he was no match for his brother and knew it.

The night also found the Alvins delving into past material, such as "Border Radio," the very lengthy "What Up With Your Brother" from Dave's "Eleven Eleven" and the ever lively and fun "Marie Marie" from The Blasters.

Dave slashed through the material with his inventive, but fluid guitar. Yeah, he spread his legs a bit here and there, but it was the sounds emanating from his axe that spoke volumes (and not always on the decibel meter either), not the stance.

Phil played the straight man to Dave, who was slyly funny, educational, witty and eventually on the humble side when he talked on the chance to play music and share stage time with his bro.

The Alvins were helped, as usual, by a stealer backing band. Pony tailed Chris Miller took some of the leads away from Dave, and he was deserving. Brad Fordham anchored the bass, and Lisa Pankratz grimaced her way through yet another evening of pounding out the beats.

The night closed with a long instrumental take of The Blasters' gem "So Long Baby, Goodbye" before the Alvins teamed up for a vocal duet, which showed how they are synched together and departing the stage from a job most well done.

The Far West, a Los Angeles-based quintet, opened with a most satisfying set of country rock. Lead singer Lee Briante, who recalled Dylan at times, was a warm-voiced lead singer, while not the biggest talker.

They made the most of their nearly 40 minutes with an inviting repertoire and sharp steely, sometimes twangy lead guitar of Aaron Bakker. The Far West were most complimentary to the headliners and deserved the good hand they received by night's end.